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Overarching Concerns Programme Paper 8: The Sources of Neoliberal Globalization

11 Nov 2005

  • Author(s): Jan Aart Scholte


In reflecting on the future fate of neoliberalism, it is important to understand where the doctrine has come from and what sustains it: know the past and present in order to shape the future. This is Scholte’s inspiration in offering an account of the institutional and deeper structural forces that have given neoliberalism its primacy in shaping globalization over the past quarter-century.

What, precisely, does globality entail? Globalization, he argues, involves the growth of transplanetary - and in particular supraterritorial - connections between people. Hence, globality is in the first place a feature of social geography. A distinction therefore needs to be rigorously maintained between globalization as a reconfiguration of social space and neoliberalism as a particular - and contestable - policy approach to this trend.

Next, Scholte elaborates on the character of neoliberal policies toward globalization. He identifies the broad principles that define neoliberal policy agendas and reviews the consequences for human security, social justice and democracy that have been associated with neoliberal policy frameworks. Recent moves to amend or transcend the Washington consensus are also assessed.

What dynamics lie behind the pre-eminence of neoliberalism in contemporary management of globalization? The author offers an account of multifaceted causation, including conditions in the realms of governance, production, knowledge and social networks. In terms of governance, the key trend promoting neoliberal policies has been a shift from statist to decentred regulation. With respect to production, the pre-eminence of neoliberalism has resulted from certain turns in contemporary capitalist development. Concerning knowledge, the general power of modern rationalism and the more specific power of economic science have provided key spurs to neoliberal globalization. And in regard to social networks, the author writes, dense connections across a global managerial class have given neoliberalism considerable strength.

Scholte concludes with a reflection on the prospects for neoliberal globalization and challenges to it. On one hand, he writes, the negative consequences of neoliberalism for human security, social equity and democracy provide substantial impetus to opposition and change. On the other hand, though, deep structures and powerful interests support a continuation of globalization-by-marketization. Quiggin therefore warns of more political struggles of the kinds that already figure on the present scene.

Jan Aart Scholte is affiliated with the Centre for the Study of Globalisation and Regionalisation, University of Warwick, United Kingdom.

Order UOC PP 8 from UNRISD, 30 pages, 2005; US$ 12 for readers in industrialized countries and US$ 6 for readers in developing and transitional countries and for students.